5 Tips for Running an Awesome OT Group

As a school-based OT, I work with students in a variety of ways.  I work inside the classroom to support students during their natural routines.  I sometimes pull students out of the classroom to the hallway or therapy room to work individually on specific skills.  Additionally, in all of my classrooms, I also run an OT group!  There are so many benefits to group therapy.  It is a great time for students to practice school readiness behaviors such as waiting their turn, raising their hand to ask for help or working collaboratively with a peer. During group, I often have the full support of the classroom paraprofessionals and the teacher, which makes doing more complex or messy activities much more manageable with everyone’s help.  Here are some of my tips for running a successful therapy group.

1. Be Prepared

I have found that it is nearly impossible to run a successful group on the fly.  I like to sit down at the beginning of the month and outline my group ideas for each week.   Having a ‘theme’ for the month can be really helpful in organizing my activities and thoughts.   Often, especially for my younger students, I align the theme with the holidays or seasons of the year. For example, the month of January has been all about ‘snow’.  For older students, I worked with my teachers to choose ‘life skills’ themes for each month and aligned group ideas to those.  We did monthly themes such as self-regulation tools, self care tasks, community access, etc.   Once I had a theme, I could then start compiling activities, materials, as well as visual supports that may be required.  Feel free to engage your students in choice making and group planning as well!  This is a great way to increase student engagement and participation.

2. Have a Consistent Routine

Group routines are so important.  I have found that when I create clear and consistent routines and expectations, my students are more successful participating in group activities.  I usually start my groups with a gross motor activity, followed by a hands on activity such as sensory exploration, cut/color activities, or even cooking.  A colleague of mine used to start and end every group she ran with the same song.  Whatever you decide, take the time to teach the routine to your students so they know what to expect.

3. Use Visual Supports

Visual supports are essential in group activities as well.  I always have a visual schedule of activities, usually created in Google Slides and projected on the screen in front of the class.  If we are making a craft or a recipe, I will have pictures of the step-by-step directions so students can follow along as well.  Finally, providing a model of any finished product the students will work on is helpful.  If I am doing a sensory activity, I also like to include visuals for students to express how they feel about the activity – if they liked how the material felt, or if they didn’t like it, etc.  I frequently project visual timers on the board as well so students can see exactly how much time they have left to complete the group activity.

4. Use Engaging Materials

As I mentioned before, group is a great time to try messy sensory activities or activities that require more assistance because I often have the support of the classroom paraprofessionals and the teacher.  My students are very motivated to engage with sensory materials and gross motor equipment that they typically do not use on a daily basis, and group is a great place to do that.  Some of my students’ favorite activities include shaving cream, playdoh, slime, kinetic sand, bristle blocks, gross motor equipment and any snack/cooking material.

5. Have Fun!

Group is a great time to have fun! Get messy, be creative and play with them – this can be a great time to build rapport with your students.

By following these tips, I have been able to create successful group routines for my students. Even though it can be a lot of work and preparation, I look forward to weekly group time in each of my classrooms!  Do you run a therapy group?  What are your favorite tips or ideas?


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